Having a difficult conversation with employees, either as a group or one-on-one, is never an easy thing to do. A negative performance review or a poor corporate earnings report can adversely affect employee morale and future productivity.
There are ways, however, to deliver bad news that can mitigate the impact it has on the employee and on the existing relationship with the messenger. The key is in leading the conversation with respect and sensitivity to how the news is likely to be received by the employee.
Here are seven tips that can help to guide the conversation effectively and promote a positive experience the next time difficult news needs to be delivered:
What Do You Want To Accomplish?
Decide on your objectives before you engage with the employee. List the points you wish to address and the outcome you are anticipating. If the discussion begins to drift from this path, return to your list of points and stay on track.
Empower the Employee
Give the employee an opportunity to present their side or to address the points you are making from their point of view. Show the employee your willingness to listen to what they have to say and they will be less likely to feel threatened or defensive.
Be Specific, Avoid Generalities
Make certain you cite specific events or behaviors without making general statements. Negative generalities can be interpreted as a personal attack. Specific incidents, on the other hand, can be improved upon and that improvement can be measured.
Observations, Not Absolutes
Sensitive issues should be presented as observations made from your perspective, not as absolutes. Observations can leave less room for argument in the discussion. However, be certain to only leave room for negotiation if you are willing to consider it. In cases of a termination, maintain a firm and direct stance without room for argument.
Accountability without Blame
Provide context when framing an issue that needs to be addressed. If a specific goal has been missed, suggest circumstances that may have contributed to the situation. The employee is still responsible for overcoming those obstacles, where possible, to meet the goal. Knowing management understands the situation beneath the surface will motivate the employee to improve going forward.
Turn the Conversation Into a Learning Experience
After the difficult news has been delivered, do not end the conversation on that note. Discuss with the employee how improvements can be made and help to create a plan of action going forward. Interject advice based on your own experiences in a similar situation. This will help the employee feel supported and will also demonstrate your willingness to assist them.
Dignity and Respect
Keep all conversations on a professional level, maintaining dignity and respect on both sides of the table. Even terminations, which are non-negotiable, can be presented in such a way to allow the employee to maintain their self-esteem and exit the meeting gracefully and without feeling defeated.
If you’d like additional help conducting difficult conversations, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746. You can also sign up for our e-Learning course, Difficult Conversations. Please visit our website at www.capital.org and look under the training tab.
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